Iranian writer Faraj Sarkuhi is being tried on charges of espionage, the head of the Judiciary Branch, Ayatollah Mohammad Yazdi, confirmed at a Tehran news conference on June 24. Sarkuhi's brothers later told reporters that the trial had began the day before. If convicted, Sarkuhi could face the death penalty. [IRNA 6/24]
European governments, French newspaper editors, and international human rights organizations have all said they will monitor the trial to ensure Sarkuhi is allowed fair representation.
"Despite the reported charges, we believe that Faraj Sarkouhi may be a prisoner of conscience, who has not used or advocated violence and who is held purely for political reasons," Amnesty International said. "If this is the case, he should be released immediately and unconditionally."
Amnesty attempted to send a delegate to attend the trial in May, but was told by the Iranian Foreign Ministry "it was not an appropriate time" for an Amnesty International delegation to visit Iran. The organization has been barred from fact-finding missions in Iran by the government since 1979. [Amnesty statement 6/24]
Sarkuhi's wife, Farideh Zebarjad, is currently in the United States, and spoke to supporters at American University in Washington DC on June 27. She also spoke at the Institute for Policy Studies, and was interviewed by the Farsi Service of the Voice of America, to explain her husband's case.
In her presentation at American University, Mrs. Sarkuhi said that while her husband was in custody late last year his jailers contacted her in Berlin, where she lives with their two children, pretending to be persons who wanted to help Sarkuhi to flee the country and asking her for money. Although she said she suspected it was a hoax, she sent money anyway as they instructed, but never heard any results. She was also told by her husband's brother, Ismail, that his last arrest took place when he was reporting in person to the Ministry of Intelligence, as he was required to do on a weekly basis. Contrary to statements by the regime, he was not seeking to leave the country illegally. [FDI 6/27]
A dramatic upsurge in arrests, which the regime claims are mainly drug-related, has increased Iran's prison population by more than 25% over the past 12 months, according to figures just released by the head of the State Organization of Prisons, Security, and Rehabilitation Affairs, Asadollah Lajaverdi.
A total of 138,000 persons were in Iranian jails at the beginning of the Iranian Year on March 21, Lajaverdi said, up from 110,000 persons the previous year, for an increase of 25.5%. Of that total, some 6,750 were foreign nationals - mainly Afghans, he said. 106,000 persons were serving terms or were under pre-trial detention on charges of drug addiction, drug dealing, and drug smuggling, he added; 41,000 of them had not yet gone to trial. Lajaverdi, who is sometimes known as "Jallad-e Evin" (the butcher of Evin) since he doubles as the head of Tehran's dreaded Evin prison, was speaking with reporters to commemorate "Judiciary Week."
Lajaverdi blamed illiteracy as "one of the biggest factors for criminal behavior," noting that 27,000 of those detained were illiterate while many others were "poorly educated." [IRIB 6/15]
Salam newspaper commented on Lajaverdi's yearly presentation on the Islamic Republic's prison system with a report on overcrowding, which it says has led to the conversion of prison classrooms, sports clubs, and mosques into inmate cells. Inmates aged between 26 and 32 years of age form the largest single group of inmates jailed on drug-related offenses, the paper said. 29,180 inmates fell into this age group, of whom 1,041 were women. [Salam 6/16]
The State broadcasting network added two days later that the Expediency Council, now headed by outgoing president Hashemi-Rafsanjani, recently increased sentencing guidelines ten fold for drug-related crimes, as part of its effort to combat illicit drugs. [IRIB 6/18]
The United Nations Special Rapporteur for Human Rights in Iran has regularly sought information on persons incarcerated on drug offenses, since the Islamic Republic authorities have long been suspected of using trumped-up charges of drug smuggling as a means of jailing political opponents, especially from Iranian Balouchistan.
A 38-year old American black Muslim, Yousef Morris Jr., has been arrested after he illegally entered Iran from Pakistan, foreign ministry spokesman Mahmood Mohammadi disclosed on June 25. "His case is similar to thousands of others... A verdict will be issued soon." Officials from the Swiss Embassy have met with Morris three times. The American prisoner "is being treated well and has contacted his family," Mohammadi said. The Foreign Ministry did not say when Morris had entered Iran, or how long he had been under arrest. [Reuter 6/25]
Following intense public pressure in the wake of the Mykonos verdict, on June 13 the Austrian Foreign Ministry released a 96-page report including contemporaneous files on the 1989 assassination of Kurdish leader Abdulrahman Qassemlou and two colleagues in Vienna. Even though the released files contain no direct evidence that Austria deliberately let the suspected killers flee the country, they show that Thomas Klestil, then secretary general of the Foreign Ministry, and former Foreign Minister Alois Mock were kept informed on a regular basis of the police investigation and related developments.
The files show that in the days following the murders, the Iranian ambassador to Vienna badgered the Foreign Ministry almost every day to get the presumed killers released, while the Austrian Embassy in Tehran cabled Vienna that clear threats to Austrian interests were being made. One of these cables, flagged to Klestil, warned that "hostile operations against Austrian interests, also outside Kurdistan, possibly in Austria, cannot be ruled out." As a precaution, the Foreign Ministry asked the United Nations to withdrawn Austrian peace keepers then serving with the UN in the Kurdish area in Iran. [Vienna Die Presse 6/14-15]
An prestigious Iranian Kurdish writer, Kalimullah Tawahudi, who disappeared in 1996, has now been sentenced to 24 months in jail in the city of Mashad, according to the Human Rights Alliance, a non-profit group based in Fairfax, Virginia. Tawahudi was charged with "propagating non-Islamic lies," the group said.
Tawahudi, now 70, is the retired director of the University Library of Mashad, and has spent 30 years researching the forced relocation of Kurdish tribes 400 years ago from Iranian Kurdistan to Khorasan province in eastern Iran, where today an estimated 800,000 to 1 million Kurds live.
Four volumes of his research, entitled The Kurdish Movement in Khorasan," have been published, while the fifth has been seized by the municipal authorities in Mashad. After his arrest, Tawahudi's files were reportedly confiscated from his home. According to Human Rights Watch, the Shiite clergy in Mashad have referred to Mr. Tawahudi as the "Salman Rushdie of Khorasan" in Friday prayer sermons.
The group called on the UN Special Rapporteur on Iran to "act immediately and urgently" on Mr. Tawahudi's behalf. [Human Rights Alliance press release, 6/20/97]
Nateq Nouri supporters are insisting that no cabinet portfolios should go to Rafsanjani supporters from the G6 (Kargozaran-e Sazandegi , or Supporters of Reconstruction),
Majlis Deputy Ali Mohavedi Savoji, a member of the Article 10 Commission which issues permits for political groups, dismissed the G6 for having "failed to perform well in executive" and for having "used government facilities and their official positions for political purposes during the presidential and the Fifth Majlis elections."
Asked to comment on the possible nomination of Mohsen Nurbakhsh as minister of finance and economy, Savoji said: "This is in no way a good choice. Even though he is a specialist, he has not been successful, even at the Central Bank of Iran."
Alluding to the intention of the G6 to form a political party, Savoji said such a move would trigger a background check of the group's members "from political, judicial, and information [intelligence] sources. Then their manifesto and principles will be studied" to ensure they are "commensurate with the law." Only then, he said, would they be approved. Savoji's comments came in the wake of statements by the G-6 that they were intended to form a new party
Savoji called on Khatemi to adopt "a supra-factional approach" in selecting cabinet members, and to retain Ali Akbar Velayati as foreign minister. "Anyone else would have to undergo a four-year training period to master global policies," he said. [Iran News 6/10]
G6 member Ataollah Mohajerani told Iran News that the group was posing "no conditions" on its participation in the Khatemi cabinet, and hoped to have its application to operate as a fully-fledged political party approved in September. [Iran News 6/28]
The English-language Iran Times reported on June 16 that Khatemi was considering appointing one of two women to his cabinet. Possible candidates were Fatimeh Ramazan Zadeh and Ghodsieh Seyed Alavi, both of whom are Majlis Deputies. They are being eyed for the Public Health portfolio [6/16]
Salam, which supported Khatemi during the elections but which is close to defeated candidate Mohammad Reyshari, wrote that Khatemi's cabinet would include "new faces" drawn from university and cultural circles. [6/17]. The paper earlier chastised supporters of Nateq-Nouri for seeking to get members of his faction appointed to cabinet posts. "Why should people who made the toughest personal attacks on Mr. Khatemi before the election now be appointed to his cabinet?" [6/16]
On June 18, Khatemi traveled to Qom for a round of visits and negotiations with high-ranking clerics, including those close to Nateq-Nouri and Supreme Leader Ali Khamene'i. In separate meetings, he consulted with Ayatollah Fazel Lankarani, Ayatollah Mousavi Ardabili, and Ayatollah Safi Golpayegani. After the meetings, he made a public speech to Qom religious students, stating that his government would "do our best to achieve the goals of the revolution under the leadership of Ayatollah Khamene'i." [Radio Tehran 6/18]
Khatemi's trip to Qom came as the conservative daily Resalat, which is owned by Supreme Leader Ali Khamene'i, observed in an editorial that the ten million voters who voted for Nateq-Nouri "also have rights," and that Mr. Khatemi was "being selfish by not observing the rights of his opponents." [Resalat 6/18]
Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati, who is deputy prayer leader in Tehran, called on Muslim governments to sever ties with Washington to protest the U.S. Congressional resolution calling for the transfer of the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
In his second sermon to Friday prayer worshipers at Tehran University Ayatollah Jannati said holy Qods was the first qibla of Muslims and added that Washington and the Zionist regime do not seem to be the least concerned about the feelings of the Muslim nations. [Iran News 6/28]
Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamene'i vowed during a ceremony marking the anniversary of the death of the late Ayatollah Ruhollah Mousavi Khomeini that Iran has no need to export its Islamic revolution.
The remark was buried away in an otherwise hard-line speech at Khomeini's tomb, in which Khamene'i vowed that the Islamic Republic "will never give in to enemies even for an hour."
"The Iranian people will work hard toward perfection, prosperity, knowledge and sciences," Khamene'i said. Khamene'i also evoked Iran's youth, who voted massively against the regime's hand-picked candidate in the May 23, criticizing the regime of the former Shah for "ignoring the fate of youth and completely ignoring people's will." [Radio Tehran 6/4]
The latest entrant into the controversy over "moderates" and anti-Western "radicals" in Iran is probably unknown to most of our readers: he is Faiz Siddiqi, the rector of Britain's Hejaz University, who was visiting Iran to take part in ceremonies commemorating the eighth anniversary of the death of Ayatollah Khomeini.
Mr. Siddiqi was asked by the Tehran Times whether he agreed with the analysis prevalent among many Western observers that the presidential election pitted a relative "moderate" against a conservative. He did not. "I think this viewpoint comes from ignorance, of not understanding Islam," he said. "You cannot be a moderate Muslim. You are either a Muslim or not a Muslim." Western observers had committed a "fallacy" in their interpretation of Khatemi's election. "They wrongly assume that Khatemi's coming is like Gorbachev's coming in Russia."
Referring to the icy relations between Iran and the United States, Siddiqi called them a historical "tension between truth and falsehood. For every Pharaoh there will be a Moses. And for the Pharaoh of today, which is the United States, there will have to be a Moses. I believe the lame Imam Khomeini's views enlightened the world Muslims as to the way they should react to the arrogant powers. I think the American officials cannot understand the depth of the Islamic culture which the Islamic Republic of Iran aims to disseminate."
Asked about the European Union, Siddiqi called them "a better devil, because Europe has a culture, has a tradition and a history. Therefore, the American officials feel vulnerable and are frightened of any interaction between Iran and European Union.... I think Germany can be the best ally for Iran," although he said France and Britain came in a close second. [Tehran Times, 6/18]
The manager of an Iranian firm, Hossein Dowlatkhah, was sentenced to death by the 11th branch of the Islamic Revolution court, on charges of "swindling and hoodwinking 7,000 depositors and bilking their capital." He was accused of having established "a swindling band, plundering people's properties, beguiling people, and issuing thousands of bounced checks."
The court termed him "corrupt on earth," a term used in the past to designate supporters of the former Shah. In addition to the death sentenced, they ordered the confiscation of the businessman's property "in kind or in cash." His appeal will now be referred to the Supreme Court.
Dowlatkhah was charged will having pocketed 88 billion rials (around $29.4 million). In addition to execution, the court also ordered that he be whipped - presumably before the hangman's noose. [IRNA 6/19]
A well-known Islamic scholar living in Germany, Dr. Mehdi Haeri, told an interviewer with Radio Israel's Farsi service recently that the Special Court of the Clergy has established its own intelligence service, to keep tabs on sedition within the ranks of Iran's Shiite clergy.
Dr. Haeri, who had been jailed by the Islamic Republic before going into exile, called the Special Court of the Clergy "a notorious judicial and oppressive machine which is harassing clerics throughout the country." The Court "has its own intelligence service with around ten thousand personnel," he alleged, and "reports directly to the Supreme Leader," Ayatollah Khamene'i. [Radio Israel 6/14]
Another step toward the enactment of tough new penalties against political opponents was taken on June 22, when the Majlis approved the general outlines of the Islamic Punishment Law, which has been under discussion for some time.
While many details still must be debated in Parliament, the bill as it now stands has 13 chapters and 496 articles, which require harsh punishment - including death sentences - for dozens of ordinary and political crimes.
The new law codifies extradition procedures for Iranians arrested overseas and delivered to the Islamic Republic authorities by foreign governments, and authorizes the government to track down political dissidents living abroad (although it does not specifically state the government is authorized to assassinate them). In an unusual measure, the new law also empowers the government to punish foreign nationals who have committed crimes in foreign countries "and are consequently arrested in Iran or delivered to the government by a foreign government."
Foreign nationals can be punished for the following acts, according to the new law:
1) Action against the Islamic Republic of Iran, against the domestic and national security of the Islamic Republic of Iran, and against the sovereignty or independence of the Islamic Republic of Iran.
2) Falsification or fraud relating to the handwriting, seal, or signature of the Leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran.
3) Falsification or fraud relating to official writings of the President, Majlis speaker, Head of the Council of Guardians, Head of the Majlis Khebregan, the Vice Presidents, the Head of the Judicial Branch, and the Head of the Diwan-e Aly-e Keshvar.
4) Falsification or fraud of currency or banking documents. [Radio Tehran 6/22]